Bottle Shock (2008)

Wine movie may well pop your cork…

The world of wine is a complicated one. Although many of us stick to what’s on 3-for-2 at the local supermarket, scratch the surface and there’s a whole universe populated by winophiles, who discuss things like vintages, terroir and malactic fermentation. It’s these people who populate Miller’s intriguing Bottle Shock, although the story is bubbly enough that you don’t have to know your Shiraz from your Chardonnay to enjoy it.

It’s 1976, and uber-connoisseur Steven Spurrier (Rickman) takes a superior pride in his Parisian wine shop, but although he believes French wines are the best in the world his lake of customers suggests otherwise. Steven’s been hearing rumours that Californian vineyards are producing exceptional wines and, seeing a marketing opportunity, travels to the Napa Valley to select some of the New World’s best for a blind taste test against his beloved Gallic vino. Although Steven is initially resolute that no-one could beat the French at their own game, he is soon won over by the dedication of the Californian winemakers, including Jim (Pullman) and Gustavo (Rodriguez), and the tipple they produce.

Based as it is on the true story of the ‘Judgement of Paris’ wine tasting, Bottle Shock contains – despite its title – very few surprises. But the fact that we know where it ends doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the journey, particularly as it’s so engaging. That’s thanks to some beautiful cinematography from DOP Mike Ozier, whose contrasts of the rainy greys of Parish with the vivid, lush Californian countryside not only highlight the geographical difference between the Old and New Worlds, but also the gulf of thinking and approach to the art and enjoyment of wine that lies between them.

The performances too are solid, with Rickman being – as ever- deliciously droll as Spurrier, both celebrating and sending up his intense passion for the grape. And watch out for the new Captain Kirk Chris Pine (almost unrecognisable with his long hair and flares) as Jim’s slacker son, who must learn some hard lessons if he’s going to make anything of his life.

True, anyone who has absolutely no interest in the world of wine may find the whole thing rather bemusing. But it’s a film that acknowledges the passion, dedication and commitment of those owner/growers who keep our wine cellars, cupboards and fridges stocked and, to that end, it’s worth a tipple.

4 stars

Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Freddy Rodriguez
Director Randall Miller
Certificate 12A
Distributor Paramount
Running Time 1hr 48mins
Opens March 20